Award-Winning Activist | Entrepreneur | Author
I started my entrepreneurial journey after graduating from university. I had been searching for the right type of opportunity where I could make a difference in my work. As a Black female, there often wasn’t a seat at the table. I quickly realized that if I was to succeed in the way I wanted to, I had to create my own opportunities by going in the side or back door. Thirteen years ago, I created Overture with the Arts (OWTA), a non-profit based in Montreal. OWTA offers education in music, dance, drama and vocal training. We specialize in creating free and low-cost programs enabling young people to pursue their passion in the performing arts when they wouldn’t otherwise have the finances to afford classes.
For over ten years of creating numerous workshops and opportunities for children who love the arts, I discovered that representation was seriously lacking in the education of children. In 2010, I created a Black History Month School Tour, where I teamed up with a local musician to create an interactive presentation about Black History. We visited schools nationwide to discuss and highlight the importance of Canadian Black History. It was during this time that I discovered that there were little to no resources available about Canadian Black History and culture. Since there was a huge gap in the market, I decided to create educational resources that showcased and highlighted the brilliance and resilience of Black Canadians. I founded Big Dreamers/ Akilah Newton Projects Inc. (formerly known as Bright Confetti Media Inc.) and co-wrote and self published my first book - Big Dreamers: The Canadian Black History Activity Book for Kids Volume 1. It is an overview of people, places, and events that paved the way for future generations of Canadians. The book profiles individual “Big Dreamers” from A-Z, provides a historical timeline, examines Black History in each province and territory, and keeps readers engaged with a variety of activities. From there, I co-wrote Big Dreamers: The Canadian Black History Activity Book for Kids Volume 2 then wrote my first storybook, Movers, Shakers, History Makers: The Canadian Black History Book of Rhymes. I started to realize I could expand my product line to include games and arts activities and supplies. The goal of Big Dreamers is to celebrate multiculturalism and individuality through the lens of diversity. We value the contributions, accomplishments and sacrifices made by people who have blazed a trail and paved a path for future generations to dream big. Big Dreamers now has over 10 books and products and some of my products are featured in stores around Canada.
Most recently, after thirteen years of hard work and determination, OWTA opened our brand new arts and culture centre. For most thirteen is an unlucky number, but not for us. I am so proud to have reached this goal and even more proud that we can offer children even more creative outlets to express themselves.
What were the biggest initial hurdles and how did you overcome them?
As expressed above, there wasn’t necessarily a seat at the table for Black female entrepreneurs for so many years. I had to create my own opportunities and build my own company to ensure I found a way to work while trying to make a small difference in the world. I also suffered from “imposter syndrome.” I still have this feeling occasionally, but I have learned that if you are in the room, you deserve to be there. I have learned to embrace my heritage and the unique skills, experience and outlook that it brings. I have worked incredibly hard to get to where I am today, and there is still a long way to go! However, any time I start to doubt my abilities, I just remember my countless years of hard work and perseverance. If it’s meant for you, it will be - you just have to be diligent and passionate about the work. You will know you are heading in the right direction when opportunities keep presenting themselves. When these opportunities come knocking, you walk through that door proudly, with your head held high. I wholeheartedly believe in my products and I believe they can help children feel represented in a world that still tries to diminish diversity.
What advice would you give to an upcoming youth or talents locally and internationally?
One of my favorite sayings is from the book “The Tortoise and the Hare” - ‘slow and steady wins the race.’ This has been my motto since day one and it has proved to come true for me. A lot of people want quick wins and immediate gratification. However, most things worth having often don't happen overnight. You have to put in the work and it can be years of chipping away at your goals before you start to see results.
Also identify where your strengths and gifts are. I believe every single person on this planet has a gift and can offer something unique. Once you determine what that is and what you are truly passionate about, this is half the battle. Finding a job that you enjoy and are passionate about is one of the keys to success.
Finally, you don’t have to have everything figured out at 25. There is no rush! If we are fortunate, life is long and it takes time to figure out what you love. Don't put added stress on yourself to be successful by a certain age. Success can come at any age.
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